The towering stands of the Melbourne Cricket Ground instantly give you a sense of occasion. Even as the South Africa team played football at the start of their training session at the ground, multiple groups of people were being taken through paid guided tours of the MCG. A group was standing on one level, another on the upper tier, then another one still further up, almost vertically in line. In an otherwise empty ground, even a smattering of people on various tiers created an effect strong enough to give a hint of the spectacle a filled MCG will create when India meet South Africa on Sunday.For Shikhar Dhawan, it all started with India versus South Africa in another multi-nation one-day tournament. The opening match of the Champions Trophy in Cardiff in June 2013 was the first time he and Rohit Sharma opened together, and their 127-run partnership began India's victory march towards the title. Playing his first ODI in two years, and riding the confidence of a spectacular Test debut hundred three months ago, Dhawan cracked 114 off 94 deliveries, his maiden century in the format.Knowing that Dhawan was prone to compulsively attacking the short ball, South Africa tried to bounce him, but the opener charged fast bowlers and swatted boundaries.Dhawan has had his technical issues, which have been brought to the fore during his earlier miserable run on this long tour of Australia. One knock of note in the Test series when the Brisbane match was more or less over as a contest. Dropped for the fourth Test. Failed in the following one-day triangular series too. Got a break for about a week or so before the World Cup warm-up matches. Made 59 against Australia in the first warm-up match, and then, rose to one of the biggest occasions of them all with 73 off 76 against Pakistan in India's tournament opener in Adelaide four days ago. Involved in a 129-run partnership with Virat Kohli that set up the match for India.
As his hundred on Test debut, the Champions Trophy century against South Africa, and the Pakistan knock in Adelaide illustrate, Dhawan is a confidence player. He will probably always have issues with accurate fast bowling just outside off stump as he likes to remain inside the line and carve deliveries through cover and point. He likes to instinctively play on the up without really getting forward or back.Confidence is a strange thing. As MS Dhoni has said often in the past, it can take a matter of feeling a few deliveries nicely on to the bat for the confidence to return. It can also disappear similarly, making the same erstwhile flowing player look scratchy. You can bat all you want in the nets. It may return, it could even get worse. You could start fretting too much about what is going wrong, and tie yourself up further.Players who rely on confidence and touch, such as Dhawan, need to be handled carefully. Sometimes they just need to be taken away from the everydayness of practice and matches, matches and more practice, and be left to sort themselves out in peace. On India's tour of New Zealand in early 2014, Dhawan was getting starts in the one-dayers but didn't get the big runs. Dhoni left him out of the fourth ODI in Hamilton. Dhawan returned to make 115 in the first Test in Auckland and 98 in the second in Wellington."Whenever you get rest, it is good," Dhawan had said then. "You are getting a break from the match pressure and you can think what you can do better. I was relaxed and I came back."India had a few days off in the lead-up to the World Cup where they put away the kit bags and unwinded, and Dhoni said that was one of the key reasons they were able to put behind a forgettable tour so far and raise their performance against Pakistan. Probably the best example of someone having benefited from the break was Dhawan. He was made to hop a couple of times by Mohammad Irfan, but he also hooked the fast bowler for a six. He also left and defended outside off reasonably well.On India's tour of South Africa in late 2013, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel claimed Dhawan once each on strokes he likes to play - the former on the instinctive cover drive, the latter on the pull. MCG on Sunday will be a much bigger occasion than a couple of bilateral ODIs. Dhawan seems to have regained his touch against Pakistan. The confidence man and the big occasion combined the last time these two teams met in a world event.